10 Questions with Birdfoot E.D. Rebecca Crenshaw

What do you want to know about Birdfoot’s new Executive Director? It’s been a busy month for Rebecca between starting her new role as Birdfoot ED and performing in Nashville, but we found a few minutes to ask her about what makes her tick so you can get to know her. She can’t wait to meet you!

What were your earliest chamber music memories and experiences?

My earliest chamber music experiences took place at The Institute for Strings, founded by Jan Sloman in Dallas, TX. Over four summers, I fell in love with chamber music and made lifelong friends. The specific ways that you can communicate with an instrument in the intimate setting of chamber music shifted how I thought about being a musician—the importance of the voice of the individual balanced with collaboration and deep listening. It laid the groundwork for the musician I am today. There was a tradition of performing Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue for Strings in C minor each year as a conductorless ensemble, breathing and moving together, and to this day, I am filled with emotion when I hear the piece.

Another formative memory is playing Shostakovich quartets in highschool, coincidentally with Jason Issokson (a former Birdfoot Artist Residency participant!) at Booker T. Washington Highschool for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. When I attended Booker T, there often weren’t enough formal rehearsal spaces so we’d play in corners of the hallways or under stairwells. I loved how rehearsing in the hallway blurred the lines between rehearsing and performing—it made exploring the music more exciting (and often we learned the piece faster) because there was an audience even when we were not performing. And it opened up the process for all to hear.

And finally, playing pieces composed by my dearest friend Mary Sutton. We grew up together, attended all the same schools, both played viola, and both loved to experiment and push boundaries. We tried playing our instruments with guitar slides and banjo pics (I wouldn’t really recommend it…), experimented with playing Telemann Concertos for 2 violas while lying on our backs (not ideal sound-wise, but an incredibly interesting way to experience gravity!), and even recorded a piece for solo viola and carrots—you can ask me later what that was about! Mary is still composing and performing in the Portland area—I highly recommend checking her out.

You came to New Orleans in 2008—and you’re still here—what grabbed you and why New Orleans?

During my first visit to New Orleans pre-Katrina, I was grabbed by the way New Orleans invited an openness and self-awareness I had never experienced before. This invitation wasn’t always kind and welcoming—it was sometimes harsh or brutally honest, but also true to reality. No other city has made me feel like that, which is probably why I am still here.

What does inspiring leadership in the arts look like to you?

Inspiring leadership is empowering. A good leader empowers others to shine brightly by identifying and utilizing their skills and expertise, and also leaves space for growth and development both professionally and personally. An inspiring leader listens deeply and is not afraid to make mistakes.

What excites you about being Birdfoot’s Executive Director?

Asking and exploring life’s big questions through music and art and the festival’s programming—and the variety of answers to these questions we may (or may not?) discover along the way. The opportunity to share this process and all of the curiosity and creativity it encompasses with others in a festival format is a dream!

What do you get up to when you’re not wearing your Birdfoot Executive Director hat?

When not wearing the Birdfoot ED hat, I teach Yoga for Musicians classes (at Wild Lotus Yoga and the Musician’s Clinic). I was initially drawn to yoga as a musician when I had an overuse injury, but I found much more than that in yoga—I found a way of life.

I also perform with several different ensembles in New Orleans. Last weekend I was performing with Ever More Nest at AmericanaFest in Nashville. I love to travel and be outside—camping, hiking, beaches—all of it!

Teaching is another passion. I maintain a small violin/viola studio in New Orleans and am on the Teaching Artist Guild National Advisory Committee. All the different hats that I wear compliment and inform each other. I wouldn’t be who I am without them all.

What are you listening to right now? 

My Brother, My Sister
Andrew Bird
Hanuman Chelisa – Krishna Dos
Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s newest recording, Song
Billie Eilish

If you could invite six musicians or composers from any point in history to a dinner party, who would they be?

David Byrne
Johann Sebastian Bach
Will Oldham
The Beatles (can they count as one?)
Nina Simon
Mary Sutton

What is your superpower?

Sleeping anywhere. Over the years of traveling and touring, I’ve developed a keen ability to fall asleep anywhere. It’s a blessing and a curse.

Birdfoot’s 2023 season is about our relationship with nature. What does this mean to you?

When we have the chance to really drop into our innate connection with nature—be it by putting our feet in the dirt in our backyard or swimming in the ocean—we connect to something bigger than ourselves. Chamber music evokes the same sensation for me: your individuality is intertwined with your role in the bigger picture.

What are you most looking forward to about your first Birdfoot Festival?

The food during Birdfoot’s pre-festival Artist Retreat. I’ve heard so much about the famous kitchen team and the things they cook up! And also the opportunity to get to know Birdfoot’s community of fans and audience members and spend time with so many amazing people.